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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume I: Witness to Murder (1954) - Blu-ray Review

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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume I

The “witness” in this film noir title is Barbara Stanwyck.  The murderer is George Sanders.  I’m not spoiling anything for those who have never seen Witness to Murder.  In fact, we see the murder happen in the very first scene as Stanwyck as Cheryl Draper looks out her apartment window and “witnesses” Sanders as Albert Richter strangling a woman until, yes, she drops dead on the floor of his apartment.  

"In this set from Kino Lorber, all 5 films were newly remastered in HD!"


Within seconds of beginning, the rich atmosphere in this black-and-white thriller from 1954 is firmly established marking it as classic film noir material as Stanwyck, alone in her apartment, finds herself without any support in a very dark and very expressive city.  Los Angeles looks almost brand new as the filmmakers, using windy and stormy nights, present a very dangerous city.  It’s the type of city that Sanders thrives in.

Stanwyck calls the cops and they come over immediately, then - after hearing her accusations of murder - go across the street and thoroughly give Sanders the shakedown.  But their doubts linger with her story and not with the ex-Nazi, who strikes them as trustworthy.  Is it any coincidence then that when we get to the instance asylum they are all women? {googleads}

Weird, right?  But there’s more.  Having successfully moved the body and later dumping it nude in Griffith Park, Sanders embarks on a crusade to paint Stanwyck as crazy.  He types up threatening letters and then mails them to himself.  And the police buy into his story, ultimately forcing her into an insane asylum where the hits and twists keep coming.

Through it all, cinematographer John Alton challenges viewers with crisp shots of the city and shadowed shots of apartments, hallways, and offices.  Fear, alienation, and paranoia follows as Sanders sets out to paint Stanwyck as insane, unstable, and eager to harass him about a murder he did not commit.

If this film sounds a bit like Rear Window, there’s a reason.  The studio was in a race to get this out on the streets before Alfred Hitchcock’s film and, yes, while it hit theaters a month before Rear Window, history was not so kind in remembering it.  Which is a shame.  The film is darker in tone and, with an unexpected twist, absolutely crushes the truth with a heap of lies, thanks to a typewriter and a mental institute.barbarastanwyckwitnesstomurder1954

Film Noir, as a genre in film stems from the assault of way too many “Happy Endings” in Hollywood.  It’s a natural response full of pessimism and fatalism and, as a result, it butters this reviewer’s bread.  For about a decade, writers and directors could see that audiences weren’t interested in fairy tales anymore.  There was too much poverty; too much death and destruction; too many wars.  And the push to urban life had created an economic disparity that lingered long after any romantic ending did.  

People needed the darkness to be acknowledged and, from 1944 to 1955, it was cinema’s prime celebrity as highly cinematographic films - cheaply made - fell onto the rain-soaked streets of Home Town, USA.  Witness to Murder, now on blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume I, is merely one offering from that era of filmmaking.  There are four other titles, including A Bullet For Joey, He Ran All The Way, Storm Fear, and Big House, U.S.A!

4/5 stars



Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- May 24, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1, 1.75:1, 1.37:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; five-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

In this set from Kino Lorber, all 5 films were newly remastered in HD! A Bullet For Joey (1955) When a Canadian police inspector (Edward G. Robinson) investigates a murder, he is hurtled into an adventure involving foreign spies, American gangsters and an explosive high-tech secret that could change the world – co-starring George Raft. He Ran All The Way (1951) John Garfield plays a dim-witted thug who survives a shootout with the police after a payroll robbery. Seeking cover, he meets Peggy a lonely young girl (Shelley Winters) who takes him to her family's apartment, while there the paranoid thief decides to takes the family hostage until he can escape. Storm Fear (1955) Cornel Wilde plays a wounded bank robber, on the run from the law, he and his gang decide hide out at his brother (Dan Duryea) and sister-in-law's (Jean Wallace) farmhouse during a snowstorm. Witness to Murder (1954) A woman (Barbara Stanwyck) fights to convince the police that she witnessed a murder. Co-starring George Sanders and Gary Merrill.


With a crisp black-and-white transfer, Witness to Murder lands on blu-ray thanks to the crackling efforts of Kino Lorber.  Shadows, while not too terribly detailed, are thick and atmospheric throughout. Presented with an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, the film looks marvelous and easily beats the poor appearance on television and on home video DVD that has previously dogged it. The blacks and grays are handled expertly by the transfer.  Beads of sweat are visible, wet city streets, textures in clothing, and even the dirt in the pavement is all visible with fine textures throughout.


Bang! Bang! Bang!  Shots are fired on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which accompanites this film noir flick.



  • None

Special Features:

There is only a trailer.

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  3/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 1/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

3/5 stars


Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume I